(H/T Ponte Sisto)
Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Lord,
In the years when I was a parish priest, I was always delighted when the Bishop offered a Pastoral Letter for this particular celebration coming, as it does, so quickly on the heels of Christmas. It wasn’t just that we felt “talked out” after all the Christmas festivities, it was also that I, at least, felt that preaching about the Holy Family – that almost impossibly “holy” Family - was a very difficult task. I can’t pretend that today I can say anything new but I do want to offer you a few thoughts, as well as giving you my greetings for today and for the whole Christmas season.
First of all, our celebration today gives us “family” at its best and we particularly need that at this time when, politically and often socially, family life is being undermined and diminished.
In this celebration, we are offered a supreme example of trust, obedience and generous love. Speaking for myself, I can say that I have been very blessed in a very happy and fulfilled family life, but I am acutely aware that this is not everyone’s experience and I both acknowledge and sympathise with the pain that many, who are in broken families, suffer and endure.
The ideals of Christian family life set the highest standards. They challenge us in their fulfillment and they challenge us in the giving of example and encouragement to others. But these ideals are crucial for the well-being of the community as a whole. They are Christian ideals and we, who are Christians, have a great responsibility to demonstrate convincingly that they are not beyond our reach. Remember always that example is more powerful that exhortation. Reach out for these values yourselves and encourage others to do so, praying and remembering all the time that "nothing is impossible to God.”
But it’s not just family life that’s under threat in today’s world – we live today in many ways in what Pope John Paul described as a culture of death. Life itself has become cheap and, as a society, we have become careless and destructive of life, whether that life is found at its very beginnings, in the womb and in the unborn child, or in the old and frail as they approach natural death. To see such persons – for that is what they truly are – as somehow disposable or a nuisance or of no consequence, is to show a supreme disregard for the value and dignity of all who, like ourselves, are children of a loving God.
As Catholics, we pride ourselves on being “pro-life” and that is true for the diocese, for all of you who form our diocesan family and for myself. We are committed to defending life at all its stages. This commitment is the seamless garment for Christian living, and it means that all, but especially those who suffer from defencelessness and vulnerability of any kind, poverty, disease and conflict, have a right to a special place in our hearts and in the heart of the Church. This rich vision of life will not necessarily endear us to the culture in which we live but this is where we have to stand if we are to be faithful to the truth that all human beings, our brothers and sisters, are created in God’s own image and likeness.
This celebration of this feast of The Holy Family gives us the chance, not only to catch our breath after the Christmas festivities, but also to contemplate something of the reality of the circumstances and family that surrounded the Word made flesh, the Light of the world, Jesus Christ, Son of God, who has lived among us. In this contemplation and prayer today, we rejoice in the gift of life in all its richness and dignity. Our prayer is also that we treasure and sustain, as best we can. the precious gift of family in which that life is nurtured and in which it flourishes.
I send you all my greetings at this time and I pray that the Lord will continue to bless us all with his love and his grace as we enter into the New Year of 2009 which will be upon us in a few days.
May God bless you all,